Parquet Courts’ sold out show at the Rickshaw Theatre last Saturday should have been packed from beginning to end. But maybe the 9 p.m. start time was too early even for the biggest fans of the first openers, Defektors. Maybe those fans knew something I didn’t: that the group I saw tear it up at Music Waste two years ago wasn’t the same the band onstage before us. Or maybe everyone was still pre-drinking elsewhere.
The Defektors I remembered were thrashy and laid down seriously shredded chords with post-punk abandon. But then flash forward to the present, to a band that was still fiery but had taken a more melodic turn. Despite their cleaner sounding songs and firmer composure, and having opened their set in front of a nearly deserted floor, the ground level steadily populated with bobbing heads. A couple of phone cameras even sprung up to record parts of their performance. Thankfully, Vancouver has always had some appetite for compact, upbeat punk.
Defektors did eventually hit the runaway freight train stride that I loved so much, with the singer’s voice landing somewhere between a Jeffrey Lee Pierce croon and his own choked cry, but not until their final song. All things considered, having been around for nearly a decade, the change was probably good for the band as well as some of their most devoted fans.
Luckily for relative newcomers Dumb, by the time they came out, the crowd had begun gathering in earnest near the front of the stage. But as Dumb played on, I started to realize that the crowd’s eagerness to secure a good spot for Parquet Courts wasn’t the only reason why they moved up: Dumb basically had their own cheering section of familiar faces, a great sign as this show was, by a huge margin, their largest profile one yet.
Sometimes, bands have trouble adjusting when they play large stages for the first time, but Dumb could not have looked more comfortable, especially with the crowd whooping their support. It was quite amazing to have gone from seeing Dumb play to 15 people in a low-ceilinged flat six nights earlier to seeing them tower over an adoring, moshing, lyric-singing horde at the Rickshaw. They successfully brought their woozy, flimsy, but catchy punk nuggets to life on the big stage with commanding presence, putting muscle behind their songs I wasn’t sure they were capable of.
The lead guitarist was particularly magnetic in his stoic concentration. His focused handiwork was chunky, but it shouldn’t have been mistaken for sloppiness. He picked his moments, knowing exactly when to step in. Even the rest of the band seemed to have consulted him for cues with their eyes. With his volume set above the rest, his jagged shards of guitar sliced through dramatically, most markedly on “Refrain” and “7-11”.
I believed Dumb’s singer/rhythm guitarist when he said how excited they were to have been playing with Parquet Courts, but I felt the crowd’s excitement as the Brooklyn band took the stage.
Courts opened with an aggressive burst. From “No, No, No!”, they jumped straight into some new material which included “Dust”, the recently released first single from their upcoming album, Human Performance (out April 8 on Rough Trade). From there, they barreled through “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time” with zero cool-down, a one-two-punch just like on Light Up Gold.Fans less eager to get sweaty or knocked around (or to knock others around) can usually take refuge at the sides of the venue or the bar. But typical Parquet Courts fans will stop at nothing, not even the laid back trot of “Dear Ramona”. The pushing spilled everywhere. Just because people perched themselves along the walls didn’t mean they didn’t have to duck and dodge beer cans or an unusual amount of sweaters and shoes. Maybe they stayed dry, though. Maybe.
Following a volley of “Stoned and Starving” (which featured a protracted jam and an improvised lyrical takedown of Facebook), “Pretty Machines”, “Content Nausea”, and “Psycho Structures”, Parquet Courts unveiled two more new songs: “I Was Just Here” and what I could only have assumed was “One Man, No City” based on the lyrics “Still, no one lives there” and “solitaire city.” The latter included a backtrack of pock-sounds. (Okay, their fans don’t stop at nothing; they simmered for this song. I don’t know why – it was a fine tune and more uptempo than “Dear Ramona”.)
For Parquet Courts’ final string of favourites, they wound through “Bodies’, “Black and White”, and “Vienna II”. I must have missed guitarist/co-lead vocalist Austin Brown getting pelted (or nearly pelted) by an aerial beer. “If anyone wants to give me a beer, they can just hand it to me, motherfucker.” He posed a pertinent question: “Just to be clear: was it a beer or a cider? ‘Cause it smelled like shit.” Andrew Savage, the other guitarist/co-lead vocalist, chimed in: “It’s one thing to throw a beer, but to throw a cider is cold water.” After that uncomfortable incident, they introduced their new album’s title-track. Brown picked up a can. “Is this it? Can I give his back to the guy who lost it?” They closed with “Light Up Gold II” and the slow-building “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”.
Parquet Courts’ sold out show at the Rickshaw didn’t match the dank, unbreathably packed free-for-all that was their Biltmore gig nearly two years ago (an environment that likely would have done favours for Defektors and even greater favours for Dumb), but the bodies still moved, the beer still soared, and, with a live taste fresh in everyone’s mouth, anticipation for Human Performance swelled.